Opening Address for the Webinar on Groundwater: Making the Invisible Visible
Organized by the Mongolian National Commission for UNESCO
Shahbaz Khan, Director of UNESCO Beijing Office
30 March, 2022
Distinguished guests, excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,
It is an honor for me to address you today on behalf of UNESCO BEIJING Office on the occasion of this webinar, Groundwater: making the invisible visible.
I thank the IWHR, IAHR, UNESCO World Water Assessment Program and GWP China for your kind invitation and effort in organizing this great event.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Groundwater accounts for approximately 99% of all liquid freshwater on earth. It provides almost half of all drinking water worldwide, serving 38% of the world’s irrigated land and about 1/3 of water supply required for industry. It sustains ecosystems, maintains the baseflow of rivers and prevents land subsidence and seawater intrusion. Groundwater is an important part of climate change adaptation and is often a solution for people without access to safe water. It is central to the fight against poverty, to food and water security, to the creation of decent jobs, to socio-economic development, and to the resilience of societies and economies to climate change. Reliance on groundwater will only increase, mainly due to growing water demand by all sectors combined with increasing variation in rainfall patterns.
It is a key resource for achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Agenda for 2030 — but is still weakly conceptualized in the SDG 6 (water and sanitation for all by 2030) indicators or insufficiently known to provide a reliable indicator value. Professional assessment of groundwater status, trends and risks is required to interpret the state / condition of the groundwater resources, whose sustainability is essential for achievement of SDG-6 Targets. Beside SDG-6, groundwater directly contributes to poverty eradication (Goal 1), food security (Goal 2), gender equality (Goal 5), sustainability of cities and human settlement (Goal 11), combating climate change (Goal 13) and protecting terrestrial ecosystems (Goal 15).
Unfortunately, human activities (including population- and wealth growth), unsustainable patterns of development and climate variability are increasing pressure on groundwater resources; consequently, pollution and over-extraction problems are regularly reported in many parts of the world. Regardless of their importance and of evident threats - we still do not know sufficient about a state and current trends of the World’s groundwater resources. This natural resource is often poorly understood, and consequently undervalued, mismanaged and even abused. Invisible groundwater is out of sight and out of mind for most people. We need to take action by making the invisible visible. Groundwater is a hidden treasure that enriches our lives.
In the context of growing water scarcity in many parts of the world, the vast potential of groundwater and the need to manage it carefully can no longer be overlooked. The United Nations General Assembly and the Human Rights Council both agree that fair access to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation are distinct human rights. Human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation are anticipated to be realized by UN member states' action plans and strategies, as well as groundwater protection and aquifer recharge, since groundwater is a vital component of water supply and sanitation.
It is critical that countries commit to building an adequate and effective groundwater governance structure. This necessitates governments taking the lead and assuming responsibility for establishing and maintaining a fully functional governance structure, which adequately covers groundwater management in agriculture, human settlements, industry, ecosystems and climate change. It is also essential that this governance structure fully takes into account issues in regards to policy and planning, institutional capacity, laws, regulations and their enforcement, stakeholder participation, appropriate financing, transboundary aquifers, building and updating the knowledge base of groundwater. It is also the responsibility of countries to guarantee that their policies and objectives are suitably implemented within their regional context. Because of the common-good elements of groundwater, governments must assume their responsibility as resource custodians and ensure that access to and profit from groundwater is divided equitably and that the resource stays available for future generations.
Ladies and gentlemen,
We must protect groundwater from overexploitation and pollution to use it sustainably, balancing the needs of people and the planet. The importance of groundwater is beginning to be acknowledged by the general public as a resource that has enabled human societies to thrive for millennia. To fully realize groundwater's potential, its value must be reflected in sustainable development policy making. It is our common responsibility to take substantial and concerted efforts to manage and use this precious resource sustainably, to make the invisible visible.